While legislative leaders were cautiously hopeful Monday they could recommend a bipartisan state budget deal by early next week, whether it would be a package rank-and-file lawmakers could accept remained uncertain.
While no one offered promises or guarantees, leaders from both parties said they had discussed proposals in recent days they would not have considered eight months ago when the budget debate began.
For Democrats that means not only deeper spending cuts than they’ve supported, but more restrictive, GOP-crafted caps on future appropriations and borrowing.
For the Republicans, who already have supported tax-and-fee hikes worth $840 million across this fiscal year and next — and canceling another $50 million in previously approved tax relief — it means considering even more new revenue, but not the $1.5 billion hike sought by Democrats.
“I think we’ve made tremendous strides” toward a new, two-year budget, Senate Republican leader Len Fasano of North Haven said after leaders wrapped six hours of closed-door, bipartisan talks Monday.
“I think we’re hopeful,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said. “I think we’re all working toward that goal.”
After pushing competing budget plans for much of the summer, legislative leaders renewed their push for a bipartisan deal last week after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy — who has run state finances by executive order in the absence of a new budget — imposed deep cuts on municipal aid.
By this point one year ago, communities already had received $425 million more in state assistance than they have since the latest fiscal year began July 1.
Municipal leaders have warned unless that changes soon, communities will be forced to lay off staff, drain budget reserves, issue supplemental property tax bills, or impose some combination of those choices,
While those state grant cuts have placed pressure on all legislators, Democrats have been under even more strain because Hartford’s city finances are projected to reach insolvency by early November. While Democrats largely have been unified in saying the capital city should be kept out of bankruptcy, the last GOP budget proposal would have given the city less than one-sixth of the aid Mayor Luke Bronin says is needed to avert insolvency.
Malloy warned last week that if a budget deal isn’t reached by Oct. 13, the chances of anything getting done before Nov. 1 are slim because of scheduling conflicts among legislators.
But Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said that prediction was based on the assumption that the legislature — which largely has been divided along partisan lines in the budget debate so far, remains that way.
If both parties back a common plan, it could be passed easily, even if many legislators from both parties are absent from the vote.
“We’re looking at trying to get a consensus product, a bipartisan product,” Looney said.
“We want to make sure we get the right budget done for the state of Connecticut, which means it doesn’t get rushed, but there’s a sense of urgency,” added House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby. “I think the goal for all of us is to come up with a budget document that truly represents the state of Connecticut.”
So far, sources close to the talks have said, the push for consensus has required Democrats to drop their longstanding opposition to many GOP ideas regarding new, more restrictive caps on state spending and borrowing.
But that is being done with the expectation Republicans would consider supporting more revenue than they have to date.
Neither Klarides nor Fasano would discuss specifics of what has been discussed in the private negotiations.
But they also drew no hard lines in the sand when characterizing the mood of the talks, nor did they make any guarantees about how their caucuses would react.
“We’ve taken everything into account,” Klarides said. “We’re having conversations about everything, but as with every negotiation, it’s about a give and take, and you have to know you got as much as you took. … That is our individual decision at the end of the day.”
“I think we all recognize to get to a bipartisan budget we need to all give here or give there,” Fasano said, adding GOP leaders also are advocating for the priorities of their respective caucuses. “You cannot have a bipartisan deal unless there is give and take on both sides of the aisle.”
Aresimowicz added that, “Over the past few days there’s been an open, honest dialogue. And I think everybody’s given in areas where in March or April or May we probably wouldn’t have given. We all understand the importance of coming to a budget.”